David Hockney's 1969 double portrait of legendary Met curator Henry Geldzahler and his partner Christopher Scott sold on March 6 at Christie's for almost $50 million, his second most expensive painting ever sold.
Last fall, history was made at Christie's when David Hockney was crowned the most expensive living artist with the $90-million sale of his 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). This spring, Christie's again was entrusted with one of Hockney’s famous double portraits, Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott, which was hammered at $49.5 million at Christie's Post War and Contemporary Evening auction on March 6.
The large-scale work (it measures 7 x 10 feet) was the final lot in the Barney Ebsworth collection, which broke records at Christie's last year with the eight figure sales of masterpieces like Edward Hopper's Chop Suey and Willem de Kooning's Woman as Landscape. The 91-lot collection achieved $372 million, making it the most expensive private collection per capita. Ebsworth was known for his dedication to quality artwork, and Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott was one of his favorite pieces that hung in his home.
Henry Geldzahler was one of the most powerful arbiters of the New York art scene in the 1960s. After leaving graduate school at Harvard, the young visionary joined the Met staff at age 25 and quickly rose to the role of head curator, where he introduced modern and contemporary art to the institution's canon. In 1969, at the age of 33, Geldzahler spearheaded New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970, a seminal exhibition at the Met that launched the museum’s contemporary art department and featured the works of David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
In the double portrait, Hockney portrays Geldzahler, and his partner Christopher Scott in their New York City apartment, creating a highly balanced, symmetrical work that centers on the Met maestro. Framed by the window that opens onto New York skyscrapers, Geldzahler assumes a posture of comfortable authority on the plush pink sofa and gazes directly at the viewer. His partner, Christopher, stands off to the side, looking straight ahead as not to challenge the eye contact that Geldzahler demands. His straight-edged posture and thin frame is mirrored by the lamp on the left.
Hockney's command of transparent surfaces is readily visible in the glass sheet table and Geldzahler's spectacles, just as he masters the sparkling pool in Portrait of an Artist. A close friend of Geldzahler's for about five years before this work was completed, Hockney depicts Geldzahler as many saw him, a powerful heavyweight in the global art world whose curating decisions, particularly in the 1969 exhibition, would dictate the future of many artists.
Marc Porter, the chairman of Christie's America, commented, "Hockney captured Geldzahler at a particularly decisive moment when the curator was organizing his most revolutionary exhibition. The exhibition received such a high degree of fanfare that it would soon become universally known as Henry’s Show. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of that survey, which would ultimately alter the course of both Geldzahler’s career and art history as we now know it, making the sale of this painting extremely timely."
The double portrait was on public view as part of the 2017-2018 Hockney retrospective in honor of the artist's 80th birthday that kicked off at the Tate Modern and traveled to the Met. Of the seven double portraits that Hockney painted between 1969 and 1977, only three are in private hands. The rest are in museum collections, such as American Collectors (1968) at the Art Institute of Chicago and and Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1971) at the Tate Gallery.
The almost $50 million dollar sale of this double portrait cements Hockney's long-lasting popularity following his title of world's most expensive artist last year, as well as puts the spotlight on the portrait's main subject, the curator who shaped the future of contemporary art.